All good things must come to an end!

Hello again!

Its been another few weeks since my last blog post and again, I don’t quite know where the time has gone! I’m writing this post from the mainland as my volunteer placement with Mull and Iona Ranger Service has concluded. I’ve never found the saying ‘all good things must come to and end’ to be truer and despite only being home a few days, I’m already exploring avenues which would allow me to return to the Island on a more permanent basis… Watch this space!

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A view I’ll never forget! Looking out from Bunessan, across Loch na Laitaich.

My last few weeks on the Ross of Mull were as enjoyable and as busy as all the others. Emily and myself carried out the Ranger Service’s annual ‘Fun in the Sun’ events on Iona and Tiroran and the kids who came along thoroughly enjoyed themselves! I should probably mention that these events have been re-branded as ‘Go Wild’ due to the unpredictable nature of our weather…

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The Ranger truck with Ben More in the background

We have had archaeologists from the NTS on Staffa in the past fortnight who are trying to determine the time period of the Island’s earliest inhabitants. Prior to their arrival, we carried out storm petrel surveys in the ruined buildings and other locations around the Island to ensure that the archaeologists work would not impact their nests. In total, we found 15 nests – an increase from the previous survey!

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Looking north east from Staffa during our lunch break! You can see Dutchman’s Cap in the background.

It was great that my final two weeks on the island incorporated the Ross of Mull and Iona Gala Fortnight as there was always something on to keep me occupied and distract me from my impending departure! One of the highlights was the Local Food Ceilidh on Iona. A special mention has to go to Glen’s mutton burgers which were unbelievable!

I should probably also mention that Bunessan FC won our annual 5 aside tournament, beating Tobermory 2-1 in the final!

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Champs!

In my final week, I carried out my own guided bat talk and walk  event which went really well! The event started with a presentation on the history, ecology and distribution of bats in the British Isles before we then embarked on a walk around Bunessan armed with bat detectors. We encountered around 5 pipistrelle bats, although we were unable to determine whether they were common or sopranos!

The Bunessan Show on the 5th of August was my last working day and Emily, Steph and myself interacted with well over 100 visitors. Our main focus of the day was to encourage responsible wildlife watching and behaviour in the outdoors and I hope that we got the message across.

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Helping to set up the Show tents!

Overall, the Show was a great success and the Show Dance at night was even better! The band, Trail West, were fantastic and it was a great way to end my time on the Island.

I’d like to thank Emily for offering me the opportunity to live and work on such a beautiful Island and I can’t emphasize enough how much this placement will benefit me as I begin my pursuit of a career in conservation. A special mention also has to go to the local community in the Ross of Mull and Iona. From the first day I arrived I was made to feel extremely welcome. I had no idea when I arrived on Mull that I’d make friends for life and totally fall in love with the Island. I can’t wait to get back!

Cheers for now,

Daniel

Inverti-GREAT!

Wednesday’s Ranger Walk to Scallastle provided a really enjoyable afternoon… if a little damp.

Though we all had high hopes of spotting the local white-tailed eagle pair, it was flying beasties on an all together smaller scale that stole the show.

Golden ringed dragonflies are one of Britain’s largest and most spectacular invertebrates. Fortunately for us, they are a common sight along Mull’s paths and rides. As we approached the Scallastle River with its attractive bridge and viewpoint over the tumbling water, we discovered one of these marvelous animals perched in vegetation at the side of the track.

The golden ringed dragonfly has eyes of apple green, which join like a ski-mask across the front of its face. Though their bold yellow and black marking are suggestive of danger, these animals do not sting. They are capable of biting, having very powerful jaws for tackling their insect prey; but they are in no way aggressive or threatening towards people.

This dragonfly patiently allowed itself to be lifted from the vegetation and shown to the group, offering a superb chance to inspect the delicate veins in its wings, the slight purple sheen over its eye structures and the rather alien breathing apparatus [spiracles] along the sides of its abdomen.

Other delights included an army of tiny froglets –  caught using the damp weather to its fullest advantage as they crossed the path. Each one could sit comfortably on a finger-tip, being a perfect predatory miniature of the adults.

Spotted flycatchers and groups of foraging warblers tinkled and squeaked along in the birch trees beside us, with a stunning display of yellow St. John’s wort peaking out through the rough grass.

A personal highlight was the sight of round-leaved sundew plants in full flower – something that I’ve never seen before! These little carnivorous plants thrive in nutrient poor areas, making up for any deficiencies by capturing and digesting insects. It’s all a bit “Day of the Triffids” – but their waxy white five-petaled flowers are lovely.

If you know a young person who is interested in plants and trees, why not take them along to join Emily for her Pioneering Planthunters session at Tiroran Community Forest on July 29th?

Contact: 07717581405 for further information and booking.

Stephanie Cope

Past the tipping point!

Hello again, it has been almost four weeks since my last blog and I’m not quite sure where the time has gone!

I’m well into my placement here on the Ross of Mull now and after today, only have 3 weeks left on the Island. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far and feel I’ve managed to become a part of the local community here. I’ve made a lot of good friends in the village and have joined the local football team.

We play on a weekly basis at the back of Bunessan primary school and also in Oban fortnightly. We have our annual 5-aside football tournament as part of the Gala Fortnight on the 23rd July which I’m looking forward to. If anyone reading fancies entering a team, please get in touch via email (cameron.g.anson@gmail.com)!

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Bunessan FC (I’m first on the left in the back row)

Getting back to Ranger business, Emily and myself have also been extremely busy over the past few weeks. Last week, we camped on Iona on the Tuesday night in order to survey the corncrake population. The survey commenced at midnight as the male birds return to their own area (not quite a territory) to call for a mate during the night. On this occasion we recorded 13 calling birds, down from 24 the previous month. I was even lucky enough to see my first corncrake on the walk to the campsite!

I’ve also been monitoring the Shag colony at Pigeon’s Cave on the south of Iona on a weekly basis and incorporated this into our camping trip. The breeding season for Shags is often prolonged and staggered so it is really interesting to see some birds still sitting on eggs whilst there are chicks close to fledging.

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The view south-east from Iona Campsite

The following day, we led a guided walk to the tidal island of Erraid and despite the torrential rain, everyone enjoyed themselves. Erraid is the setting of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel ‘Kidnapped’ and the beach at Balfour Bay, named after the main character, is absolutely stunning and well worth a visit!

My Mum and Dad came to visit at the weekend and it was good to see both them and my dog, Calie, who I’ve probably been missing the most since I arrived on Mull. It was good to have the weekend off and spend time as a ‘tourist’ visiting Iona. We had dinner at the Bakehouse in Bunessan on both nights and it was absolutely brilliant – Well worth a visit if you’re in the area!

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Calie on Ardalanish Beach

This week we hosted ‘Practical Plants Day’ at Creich Hall which is probably one of our biggest events of the summer. The day was a great success with over 60 people taking part in various workshops throughout the morning and afternoon. Emily, Lucy and myself manned the Kid’s Activity Tent throughout the day. We tried to place a focus on activities associated with plants which included making pencils from elder sticks and charcoal, bug hotels and paper-making among others.

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Paper-making

In other news, we have three feral kittens and their Mother living under the shed next to the Historical Centre. Efforts are under way to trap them and they are all looking for a new home!

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The Historical Centre’s kittens!

And finally, on Wednesday 20th July we have our ‘Keats History Walk’, meeting at the car park at the Kinloch junction, near the old bridge – Grid reference NM 545292. Please check our Facebook page and https://mullionarangerservice.com/events  for information on the following week’s ‘Fun in the Sun’ and ‘Pioneering Planthunters’ events!

I also have my own event coming up on Tuesday 2nd August where I’ll touch upon some of my own research carried out as part of my dissertation thesis:

‘Enjoy an evening’s bat walk around Bunessan to discover what species are foraging in the area. Meet at the Historical Centre at 8.30pm for a brief talk on the ecology and behaviour of bats before embarking on a short walk around Bunessan. Dress for the weather, wear stout footwear and bring a bat detector if you have one! Admission free but donations to the Ranger Service welcome.’

 

Frisa, Fish and Frolics.

It has been a bit of a busy couple of weeks and only just getting time to draw a breath. We had a work placement student Tom Hilder, with us for three weeks and he was a pleasure to have as part of the team. Luckily he saw the best of the weather and the wildlife, with trips to our public viewing sea eagle hides with rangers Stephanie Cope and Debby Thorne, joined the eagle tag and ringing party with David Sexton (RSPB), out with Sea Life Surveys on a couple of boat trips and joined the Ranger Service on a couple of our guided events, including the evening trip to Staffa. He also had time out with wildlife ranger James Greig, learning about deer management, and we put him to work tidying up and inspecting recreation sites, also strimming and beach cleaning. Tom is welcome back anytime!!
On Saturday we had our annual fishing competition on Loch Frisa. Fishing is from the bank and the competitors have 5 hours to catch as many trout as they can over 8 inches using one fishing rod. Plenty trout were caught but none particularly large.

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Brown trout

Guy Bolton won the adult section and a visiting youngster, Fraser from Appin, won the junior section. It was lovely to have some ‘new kids on the block’, some who were total novices, but all the juniors came away with a medal, a prize and a couple of fish.
I headed off with my camera for a wee while. The MacDowell’s fields at Lettermore were full of wild flowers and it could not have been a nicer day, slight breeze, sun, lovely landscape and NO midges.

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Flag Iris

Tikka and wild flower meadow

wild Flower meadow with Tikka

The generosity of the local business that sponsor the event really make the day and I appreciate their generosity.

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Loch Frisa looking towards Ben Taladh

Sunday was a different kettle of fish (pun not intended) all together. It was planned to have a tidy of Calgary Bay in time for the summer holiday rush, luckily the beach had little litter on it so in rather ‘damp’ climatic conditions, Matthew and Julia Reade and I spent time sorting picnic tables, tidying and strimming the camping area and plunging the wash hand basin in the gents, too much information I am sure).
To conclude my run of three events we held a guided walk at Ardmore yesterday afternoon. We were joined by retired wildlife ranger Steve Irvine and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. The weather had threated us again but miraculously the sun came out and there was a small breeze. We had a lovely companionable walk with views of an otter relatively close by the shore, a golden eagle flew overhead and then surprisingly a mole crossed our path which we would not have seen had it not been for Tikka, my vizsla, giving it a helping hand.

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Otter watching

Now the summer holidays have just started watch out for a wide variety of events for lots of different ages and interest, over the next couple of months.

by Jan Dunlop:

Going Wild on Treshnish

Each spring, I look forward to the succession of plants and animals that emerge with the warming weather on Mull.

Now, on the back of beautiful sunshine throughout May and June, the banks of wildflowers are a riot of colour and industry. Myriad insects go about the business of pollination and procreation, crackling the air with acetate wings and fueling the blue-black halo of swallows above.

For interesting wildflowers, Treshnish Farm is a destination with much to offer. The site boasts certified Coronation Meadows, which were in full bloom at the time of our visit and an absolute joy to walk through.

We were joined by members of the Bunessan Gardening Group, who proved to be tremendously goods fun; in addition to a selection of other island residents from north and south.

Carolyne Charrington led the way, through the farm and out to fields brim-full of pignut and native bluebell. Burnet roses flowered in clusters alongside the track, and greater butterfly orchids poked their white heads out between the waxy green of bracken and hard fern.

It was fascinating to learn about the effect of different grazing regimes on wildflower diversity, and there were a number of rarer species present. Some – like wood bitter vetch – were completely new to me.

We finished the outward stretch of our walk at a huddle of restored fishermens’ cottages.

Goldfinches twittered sweetly from the fuchsia bushes, and popped down for titbits left out by guests. In a small burn, marsh marigolds and cress flowers nodded by the gurgling water. Orchids – such as heath spotted and northern marsh, grew in pink profusion along the banks.

I’m told that there are still people on Mull today whose families lived in these houses. Though I’m sure it was different in times past, now they are an idyll of quiet stone and windy reflection.

Bright plastic buoys and fishing boxes filled with flowers adorned the cottage gardens. Washing flapped in the breeze, adding a homely note to the peaceful atmosphere.

It was a lovely afternoon, and I would like to thank Carolyne for both her time and her enthusiasm. I certainly learned a lot!

Why not join Emily on Burg for more flowers and burnet moths on Wednesday 25th?

Stephanie Cope

A Busy Week!

Good morning from the Ross of Mull! We’re enjoying a day in the office for the first time in a while after a busy week last week.

We kicked things off on Sunday with our Thistle Camp Volunteers who were staying at Burg for the week. In the morning we carried out some habitat management, clearing overgrown bracken which was hiding many of the old farm dwellings from view.

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Before

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After

After lunch, we moved onto beach cleaning and removed over 10 black bin bags full of ropes, plastics and other interesting items including several shotgun cartridges from Burg’s shoreline. For the remainder of the week, the Thistle Campers carried out various other tasks such as moth surveys, path and road repairs and gorse removal. Their effort throughout the week was greatly appreciated and we can’t thank them enough for their help!

On both Tuesday and Friday, Emily and myself carried out seabird surveys of the many islets around the coast of Iona with the help of the Mull Bird Club and aboard the ‘Birthe Marie’.

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The ‘Birthe Marie’ of Alternative Boat Hire

Sea bird colonies around  Scotland have been in decline for a number of years and therefore, it is important that we monitor our populations on an annual basis. During our two days surveying, we recorded numbers of shags, fulmars, gulls, kittiwakes, oyster catchers and puffins and Emily is currently in the process of writing up the results and I’m sure they will be published shortly.

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A ringed fulmar about to be released on Soa.

On Wednesday, we teamed up with tour operator ‘Turus Mara’ and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to organise an evening trip to Staffa. Although the weather wasn’t as pleasant as the previous week, our guests had an extremely enjoyable evening. Staffa’s puffins were in great spirits and were often seen feeding mouthfuls of sand eels to their pufflings!

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A few of Staffa’s puffins

Whilst our guests were on Staffa, I carried out a count of the fulmar population on Staffa with the help of Izzy from the HWDT. We counted 94 pairs of fulmars on the island – a slight decrease in comparison to 2015.

On our way back, ‘Turus Mara’ skipper Colin spotted a Minke whale and we had the pleasure of watching it surface for around 10 minutes before it finally disappeared from view heading south towards the Ross of Mull. If that wasn’t enough, we also had the pleasure of enjoying another fantastic sunset!

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On Thursday, we carried out our annual goat survey on Burg. The goats here are feral and are believed to descend from those left behind during the Highland Clearances. We monitor the goat population so that the grazing on Burg can be managed appropriately. In total, we counted 115 goats, whilst we also had the pleasure of encountering two golden eagles and several red deer!

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Some steep scrambling on Burgs north coast

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable and productive week and we thank the Thistle Camp volunteers, Mull Bird Club , Turus Mara, HWDT and Mark Jardine of Alternative Boat Hire for their assistance throughout the week.

Next up, we have our Moth and Wildflower walk on Wednesday at Burg. We will be meeting at the NTS Car Park at 10am. Booking is essential and can be made via email (ewilkins@nts.org.uk) or by phone (07717581405 or 01681700659).

I look forward to meeting you in the near future.

Daniel

Sunny highlights

We’re enjoying weeks of almost unbroken warm sunshine here, time to give you a snapshot of what we’re up to in south Mull and Iona…

Thanks very much to the cheery NTS Thistle Camp volunteers, what a good-natured bunch of hard-working folk.  They are seen here checking out the results of all their efforts shifting boulders by giving the new stepping stones the ‘prancing test’!

 

Next a great group of students from George Watsons college in Edinburgh, on Mull for a John Muir Award week, who helped us out with a seaweed survey, Marine Conservation Society litter survey and beach clean up at Carsaig.

 

Iona and Bunessan primary schools teamed up for a visit to Tiroran Community Forest and Mull Eagle Watch, learning about our nesting sea eagles, measuring and identifying trees and minibeasts and having plenty of time to explore.

 

Not to be outdone, afterschool nature clubs at both schools have been collecting wool caught on fences and brambles, which was then washed and mordanted.  They also collected a selection of plants to produce their own dyes, and have carded the dyed wool reading for felting into pictures. Can you guess some of the plants we used from the photos?

 

Plenty of other things happening too – click on the events tab to see what’s next, then come and join us!

Emily

Hello!

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Hello folks! My name is Daniel and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the new Volunteer Seasonal Ranger for South Mull, Iona, Burg and Staffa, where I will be assisting Emily for the next 10 weeks. I’m originally from Musselburgh, East Lothian, and have recently completed a degree in Environmental Protection BSc (Hons) at SRUC and the University of Edinburgh.

For the past year or so I have volunteered regularly with the NTS’ Lothian Area Ranger Service and I thoroughly enjoyed assisting in the provision of environmental education and various wildlife surveying and practical countryside management tasks. When the opportunity of a full time placement came up I jumped at the chance and here I am three days into my 10 week stint!

I have long had a passion for the outdoors, often spending my spare time fishing and hill walking (I’m at the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan in the photo above), and this has allowed me to develop an active interest in environmental management and conservation. During my time here on Mull, I look forward to carrying out wildlife surveys, including on sea bird colonies and corncrakes, as well as working with Thistle Camp volunteers and various school groups.

After a hard 4th year at University, which concluded a little over a week ago, I can’t find the words to describe how excited I am to get started. Already, I’ve been involved with building stepping stone paths across areas of bog on Iona, allowing easier access for visitors to the area. I’ve settled in well and spent last night fishing for mackerel from Bunessan Pier. I never caught any, its still a bit early, but it was a cracking night to sit and watch the sun set over the Dutchman’s Cap (Bac Mór).

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Coming up shortly, we have an evening’s sail to Staffa on the 8th June where we’ll be looking out for various cetaceans along the way before spending time with the Island’s puffin colony. Tickets are priced at only £30 and it’s certainly not an evening to be missed! However, we do have several other events planned for those who don’t have their sea legs! If you’re staying in the North of the Island, my colleague Jan is running a day trip to Ulva where she will provide a small guided tour on the 1st June.

Details of all further events can be found on the ‘Events’ section of this website or for the most up to date information please check our Facebook page.

I look forward to meeting you over the summer.

Cheers,

Daniel

Free Range(r) in North Mull

From next Wednesday (May 25th), we’ll be starting a series of FREE drop-in sessions at both the Fishnish Community Hide and the Loch Tor Hide…

Come along to spot wildlife, learn about the animals and plants that we find, and pick up some top tips for enjoying wildlife responsibly elsewhere on the island!

The Ranger will be at Fishnish between 10am – 12pm, followed by Loch Tor from 1pm -3pm.

There’s no need to book and the sessions are free, but donations to our Mull and Iona Ranger Service are always welcome.

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In other Ranger Service news, we enjoyed a beautiful walk around Aros Park on May 4th. The weather was spectacular and the wildflowers were out in force – though, it was perhaps a little warm for the birds!

The Grey Herons were visibly panting in their tree-top roost, and the only buzzard to be seen was the stuffed specimen that lives in my office… he does appreciate a trip out now and again.

Spot of the day was a bright and shiny Large Red Damselfly; the first that I have recorded this year. Hopefully, many more exciting invertebrates will follow!

Thanks to the lovely guests who came along and shared the afternoon – it was a pleasure spending time with you all.

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Stephanie Cope

Mull and Iona Ranger Service